Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
Proof that, even at her most middling, Christie was a mastermind at these kinds of stories, since the mystery is tight, surprising and kissed with a bizarre kind of genius I've never seen another mystery writer replicate.
This was the first of Christie's novels that I read, in my teens; my great aunt's book club edition, with it's bold orange and black cover, proved too great a lure for me, a lover of all things Halloween. And the book is seeped in the atmosphere of the autumnal season, from the discussion of rituals and celebrations at the beginning, to the wild pagan overtures that shade the rest of the story: the sunken quarry garden, so like a fairy ring, evoking all of those magical things ancient Celts were influenced by when they celebrated Samhain, the harvest, the turning of the year into the darkness.
Ariadne's a delight, as always, and it's a pleasure to see Spence pop up, as well (with a few mentions of Mrs. McGinty's Dead, for good measure.) So, why did it loose a star and a half? This was literally one of the last novels Christie wrote, and her age shows. With the constant occurrence of the delusional sentiment, "In my day, things weren't this sick/bad/grotesque" feels like Christie's disgruntlement expressed through the characters--and it's a lie. Anyone who begins to talk about the good old days, they're glossing or refusing to see that things just weren't as talked about. Some elements, like, character, come off as rote and tired, without the snap Christie had in her younger days.
There's also the complete lack of pity. Apparently, a ten year old boy is responsible enough for his actions, and understanding enough of the possible consequences, that he deserves what's coming to him, even if it's murder. And the dead don't deserve sympathy, just justice. Since we're talking about dead children, this understandably upset and unsettled. It seems clear to me this is a point of view that we're expected to at least see the merit of, as all of the reasonable people (Mrs. Goodbody, Spence's sister Elspeth) agree with Poirot, and are seen as harshly unsentimental and realistic, while the characters who show pity and sympathy are seen as irrational and hysterical. And in one case, homicidal, which means it's also seen as insincere. It's a shame that this mars an otherwise solid tale, a spooky, atmospheric read for the Halloween season.